‘The Art of Grief’: Irish Women’s Poetry of Loss and Healing
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This essay traces contemporary Irish women poets’ visitations to underworlds of grief in their own lives and in the psychic life of their country by reading their poetry as a map of the complex multi-directional journey of healing that takes place within bereavement. Thomas Attig well summarises the challenges of this journey: grief commands feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, anguish, estrangement, alienation, meaninglessness, fear, and spiritual pain yet also, in grieving, we ‘relearn the worlds of our experience … [we] relearn our very selves … we relearn our relationships with those who died [as] … We build new connections to larger wholes in our families, communities and within the greater scheme of things’.1 This chapter explores the dynamics of interdependence between mourning and melancholia as twin engines of response to loss, as illustrated through the work of four Irish poets now in their sixties and seventies: Eavan Boland, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Paula Meehan, and Kerry Hardie. These poets emerged as writers at a time when their national poetry tradition was directly adversely affected by the loss of visible foremother poets. That the significance of preceding generations of Irish women poets remained unregistered as formative of that tradition, has attuned their successors in a particular (though non-exclusive) way to the complexities of representing loss.